Photo Credit: Ann MillspaughBy the time Detroit declared bankruptcy, Americans were so inured to the throbbing dirge of Motown’s Greatest Hits — 40% of its street lamps don’t work; 210 of its 317 public parks have been closed; it takes an hour for police to respond to a 911 call; only a third of its ambulances are drivable; one-third of the city has been abandoned; the local realtor offers houses on sale for a buck and still finds no takers — Americans were so inured that the formal confirmation of a great city’s downfall was greeted with little more than a fatalistic shrug.
But it shouldn’t be. To achieve this level of devastation, you usually have to be invaded by a foreign power. In the War of 1812, when Detroit was taken by a remarkably small number of British troops without a shot being fired, Michigan’s Gov. Hull was said to have been panicked into surrender after drinking heavily.
Two centuries later, after an almighty 50-year bender, the city surrendered to itself.
The tunnel from Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit is now a border between First World and Third World — or, if you prefer, developed world and post-developed world.
To any American time-transported from the mid-20th century, the city’s implosion would be incredible. Were he to compare photographs of today’s Hiroshima with today’s Detroit, he would assume Japan won the Second World War after nuking Michigan. Detroit was the industrial powerhouse of America, the Arsenal of Democracy, and in 1960 the city with the highest per capita income in the land.
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